Let’s face it: groceries are a lot more expensive than they used to be.
The cost of eating at home has risen 12.2% since June 2021, according to the Consumer Price Index (CPI) of the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. This is part of an overall increase of 10.4% in the cost of food, which also includes the cost of meals out.
You might consider finding ways to cut costs on your grocery spending — such as giving away fresh produce at your nearest farmer’s market for a general supermarket in your area. Don’t do it unless you have to, says Adante Hart, a registered dietitian in Raleigh, North Carolina: Due to inflation, prices between the two aren’t actually far away anymore, and the health benefits from the farmers’ market are worth the cost difference.
“The gap between the price you see at the farmers market and the grocery store is getting smaller,” Hart tells CNBC Make It. “I know a lot of people used to say that shopping at the farmers market was more expensive than the grocery store, but now those prices are a little closer.”
In Raleigh, bananas at the North Carolina general farmers market cost between 63 and 85 cents a pound, according to a report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. At the local Food Lion, these bananas were 59 cents a pound, according to the supermarket chain’s website — less expensive, but not significantly.
Some items may be cheaper at farmers’ markets now: Carrots, for example, cost between 66 and 72 cents a pound at Raleigh Market, compared to 69 cents a pound at Food Lion.
Given how similar the costs are, the health benefits of farmers’ markets stand out, nutritionists say.
Health benefits of fresh produce
Nutrients in fruits and vegetables oxidize over time and lose their value as days go by, says Rina Franco, a registered dietitian in New York — and farmers’ produce usually travels from farm to store shelves within 24 hours.
In contrast, fruits and vegetables in the supermarket can take longer to reach the shelves, especially produce grown in remote locations. Franco says foods that are out of season in your state may contain additives to keep them fresh for long periods of time.
“The great thing about the food you get at the farmers market is that they don’t need to put toxins or wax on the food to keep it fresh while traveling,” she says.
Farmers markets also give you the opportunity to speak directly to the farmers who grow your food. Hart recommends getting to know them, because depending on the relationships you build, you may eventually be able to negotiate slightly lower prices.
“Sometimes you can work with them and they will be able to work with you and negotiate. At the end of the day, not many farmers want to bring produce home. They would rather sell as much as they can,” says Hart.
Local availability and accessibility
Finding the closest source for locally farmed produce doesn’t have to be difficult. The USDA has a local food guide, where you can type in the foods you’re looking for, filter by location and choose a farmer’s market category.
You can also use word-of-mouth, says Hart: “Ask those around you. Talk to farmers in the area. If you’re going to a restaurant that sources things locally, ask them where they get their produce.”
Hart notes that there are weekend farmers markets in most US cities, which can likely be found with a Google search. These provide great opportunities to shop prices among the multiple market vendors.
“Different growers have things at different prices, so find the best deal for you,” Hart says.
If groceries at farmers’ markets are over your budget, Hart says you should still not go back to supermarkets unless you have to. He recommends trying out food pantries, making donations at houses of worship and following up on any soon-to-be mobile markets in your area. Most farmers’ markets also accept SNAP and WIC.
“There are a lot of options out there if you can’t get into the market,” Hart says. “It’s a privilege for some people. In this economy, you have to do what you have to do.”
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